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    Four among 25 Sri Lankan university students say they have been sexually harassed, even raped, says study

    GenderEmpowermentFour among 25 Sri Lankan university students say they...
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    Four among 25 Sri Lankan university students say they have been sexually harassed, even raped, says study

    A report released Tuesday on ragging and sexual and gender based violence in Sri Lankan State universities highlights grave consequences young women face in pursuit of their educational goals.

    new study on prevalence of ragging and Sexual and Gender Based Violence (SGBV) in Sri Lankan State universities has revealed the extent and the negative consequences of these harmful practices.

    This is the first study to have separate set of questionnaires on “Social Climate and Ragging” and “experience of SGBV” administered among students and another on “staff climate” administered among the academic and non-academic staff.

    Initiated by the Centre for Gender Equity and Equality of the University Grants Commission (UGC), in partnership with UNICEF, the study covered a cross section of universities: old and new universities, and those situated in previously conflict-affected areas.

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    Ragging, a practice affecting in some form over half of students in state universities in Sri Lanka according to the study, continues to evolve in nature and consequences, often creating a toxic learning environment.  Ragging is both verbal and physical, including drug abuse, assault and sexual harassment.  It colludes with Sexual and Gender Based Violence (SGBV), another grave concern within the University System in Sri Lanka.

    Verbal harassment common

    “Sri Lankan State Universities have been producing globally renown individuals in all most all the professions. However, in the recent past there has been a growing concern on prevalence of ragging and Sexual and Gender Based Violence (SGBV) in State Universities in Sri Lanka”, said, Senior Professor Sampath Amaratunge, Chairman, University Grants Commission.

    “The launch of the report on “Prevalence of Ragging and Sexual and Gender Based Violence in Sri Lankan State Universities” today paves the way to develop interventions that can mitigate ragging and SGBV in State Universities and promote diversity and inclusion to ensure quality of education and well-being of all the members in State University communities in Sri Lanka”, he added

    The study says that over 51 per cent of the students surveyed had been subjected to verbal harassments, 34.3 per cent to psychological violence, 23.8 per cent to physical abuse and 16.6 per cent to sexual harassments, as a result of ragging.

    Both academic and non-academic staff indicated the presence of SGBV although almost all incidents were reported only from one university. The report reveals that 44 per cent of university staff had been subjected to verbal sexual violence, 22.3 per cent requested for sexual bribes and 19.9 per cent had experienced physical sexual violence.

    SGBV induces stress

    Among students in public sector universities, 21 per cent reported having been subjected to verbal sexual violence and 1.5 per cent forced into sex.

    Although ragging is often perceived as occurring only in the first year, the study indicates that the harassment does not end when students complete their first year “induction”.  In reality, ragging is simply laying the groundwork for a system of conformity and influence, in which seniors have authority over their juniors throughout their academic careers.

    UNICEF experts have opined that ragging and SGBV induces stress — an emotional and behavioural process that occurs when physical or psychological well-being is disturbed or threatened, and it produces severe anxiety. As a consequence, in the short term, students may not be able to concentrate on their studies and risk dropping out of university. As a form of violence, the long-term effects of ragging on the individual go beyond the student life, leading to timid, violent, and intolerant people whose behaviour eventually affects the entire society.

    Additional regulations

    “Ensuring that the learning environment remains conducive to help young people reach their full potential is important.  Universities should provide the space for equal opportunities for youth from different backgrounds to learn and become responsible citizens”, said Christian Skoog, Representative, UNICEF Sri Lanka.

    “UNICEF is pleased to have provided technical and financial support to this important study to inform the efforts of the universities and government in addressing the very serious issue of ragging and its consequences on learning as well as on the lives of youth”.

    Apart from the measures introduced in the past by the government, the University Grants Commission (UGC), which oversees all higher educational institutions in Sri Lanka, has recently put in place additional regulations aimed at preventing harassment of the students by their seniors.

    University authorities are now required to report such incidents to the police, and those found guilty of the offences are liable to lengthy imprisonment, expulsion from the institution of higher education and payment for damages suffered by the victim. An additional stipulation is that all students pledge in writing that they will not engage in harassment of the new entrants.

    However, concerted efforts are required to tackle the practice which impacts the quality of university education and those who come out of it.

    “UNICEF reiterates its commitment and availability to support the country in addressing ragging as well other harmful practices”, Skoog added.

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